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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 18 years old and recently went from 180 pounds to 130. I've dropped six pants sizes, plus two more sizes in shirts. You can definitely see the difference.

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have bugged me to lose weight, even though I was healthy and well-built. I played sports and ran track, so a lot of my weight was muscle, but my parents always wanted me to look like a tiny gymnast in miniskirts, so they bribed me to lose weight. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I was so depressed about my weight that I considered suicide.

About 6 1/2 years ago, I began sticking my fingers down my throat every time I ate. Now I throw up after I eat whether I stick my finger down my throat or not. I know it's not healthy. I know I am bulimic, and it is not a joke.

I want to have a husband and children someday, but I know that won't happen unless I get well. You can bet that if I'm lucky enough to have children, I'll love them no matter what size they are.

Please tell me where I can get help, Abby. And please tell parents to stop criticizing their overweight children. Help them lose weight, yes, but constant nagging and poking fun only lead to desperate measures on the part of the child. -- READY TO MOVE ON IN HOBBS, N.M.

DEAR READY TO MOVE ON: It is a sad commentary that someone as young as you had to resort to such drastic and life-threatening measures.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized in part by a preoccupation with food, binge eating (usually in secret) and purging after eating. The disorder is generally accompanied by depression, shame and guilt, mood swings, low self-esteem and withdrawal from normal social activities. Physically, bulimics can suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, tears in the esophagus, and serious heart, kidney and liver damage. If left untreated, it can even be fatal.

It is important to recognize that food is not at the heart of any eating disorder. Parents, if you feel that you or your child may have an eating disorder, either bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa, do not blame or try to make your child feel guilty. Express your love and support and try to be understanding. Realize that your child is terrified of something, and seek professional help immediately.

For information on eating disorders and a referral to a doctor, therapist and support group in your area, contact the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders by writing to: ANAD, Box 7, Highland Park, Ill. 60035. Enclose a long (business-size), self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. ANAD's hotline, answered by understanding counselors, is (847) 831-3438.

DEAR ABBY: I am a clerk in a store. Recently I asked a young female customer a question. She replied, "Yes, ma'am."

"Ma'am" and "Sir" may seem old-fashioned and out of style, and to some people they smack of servitude, but it fell sweetly on my ears. It was a welcome display of manners, since only minutes before I had heard another young female shopper tell her child, "Get your a-- over here!" -- MILWAUKEE MANNERS MOURNER

DEAR MOURNER: While formal etiquette is not as prevalent as it once was, the majority of people still practice casual good manners.

However, the parent who speaks crudely to her child, regardless of how annoyed she may be, is in for a rude awakening, because in a few years her child will be responding to her in the same manner.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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